The Barrel Was Famous for Chicken Sandwiches

by Marilee Kreps in 1985


The Barrel was one of "the hangouts" for Columbia City's youths from just before Worrld War II to 1968.

Today's teen-agers are probably unaware that as they travel North Main Street in their souped up cars that they are traveling the same "brownie" route that their parents traveled many years ago.

Walter Goe started the barrel-shaped drive-in before World War II when it was operated in the summer only. It was famous for its hot chicken sandwiches and that tradition was kept by all successive owner-operators.

Goe added a small dining room next to the Barrel before it was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Gall in 1949. The Galls either operated or leased the business until 1959 when it was sold to the Wilson Franks. It was operated by the Franks as Marc's Drive-In Restaurant until 1968 when the restaurant equipment and building were sold to make room for progress.

Paul Fries, a teacher at Thorncreek Center School, was attending Indiana University. Taking over management in 1951, Paul's entire family helped in the operation, including his mother Marie and his brothers and sisters Margaret, Genevieve, John, George and Helen.

Paul and Nancy Fries, now Thorncreek Township residents, have fond memories of their seven years at the Barrel.

One summer Paul had hired all of the carhops he needed. A young lady by the name of Nancy Van Holten applied for a job. "All the girl wanted to work as carhops Paul remembered, because that's where the boys were, outside in their cars." Nancy Van Holten must have caught the manager's eye, however, because she was hired as an inside worker.

"I didn't mind the inside," Nancy said, "because we got paid more than the carhops. Besides, I married the manager!" The Frieses were married in 1954and continued operation of the drive-in.

"There was a friendly rivalry between us and Schang's," Nancy said. "They used to send someone to check out our food and once in awhile we'd drive out there to see what they had."

Pre-cooked and frozen food were futuristic ideas for small town restaurants in the 1950s. "We bought all the chickens, cooked them, picked the meat off the bone, and mixed the chicken sandwich recipe ourselves," Paul said. Nancy added, "Boy, whenever I see those frozen french fries today I think of all those potatoes we peeled and sliced and pre-cooked ourselves for fries!"

The Barrel's parking lot could hold about 30 cars and at times it overflowed. There were no voices from electronic speakers and no menus encased in plastic.

The white-aproned teen-age carhops bounced out to the cars with their pencils and paper pads to take orders. Chicken sandwiches were 25 cents, barbeque sandwiches were 30 cents, grilled loins and steak sandwiches were 35 cents, sundaes were 20 cents, shakes were 25 cents and root beer sold for 5 and 10 cents.

The Frieses lived in a little house next door and after their first childd William (or Willie) was born, they had a steady supply of babysitters derived from the carhops.

...In later years Nancy Fries remembers Beulah Alexander, Betty Marrs, Ida White and Genevieve Keirn as inside help and carhops were Linda Putman, Joanna Putman, Kay Herrick, Dorrothy Gruver, Mary Ann, Nancy and Marge Poffenberger, Dottie and Becky Erne, Kay and Judy Leininger, Lidian Bloom, KayDean Platner and Vickie Leach.

The Frieses have kept records of their management and among those papers are receipts for paychecks. One, dated April of 1958, showed Becky Erne's check as a carhop. "She made $5.54 that week," Paul said, "but of course all the carhops got to keep their tips. We paid them 15 cents an hour and the cook made 75 cents an hour."

Being surrounded by teen-agers was fun, the Frieses said... They have photographs of Becky Erne and KayDean Platner in their prom dresses. "The girls would get all dressed up for the prom and then come out to show us their dresses," Nancy said.

...The Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day were big business days for the Barrel. "We also had big business after the Columbia Theatre shows let out," Paul said. "We'd have a rush after the 7 p.m. show and then just get enough ahead for the rush after the 9 p.m. show.

Like most restaurant managers who hired young people, the Frieses took more than a business interest in the kids. "Sometimes we even had to go get the cook and take her home," Paul said.

"The girls keep in touch with me, I still hear from a lot of them, "Nancy said.

Originally The Barrel stood where Bi-Rite Station is now located. There were no grocery stores, nor was there a U.S. 30 bypass. When you got to the Barrel, it was almost country. Across the street, where businesses now overflow, there was a spacious dairy farm. The Henrys operated the farm and they were hosts to a lot of city school field trips.

The U.S. 30 bypass completion saw the sale of the Barrel's land to the Sun Oil Company and the Barrel was moved across the street [to the west side].

The above article appeared in The Post & Mail on September 5, 1985.


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